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Why candidate experience is important in recruitment, and how you can improve it

It’s not hard to see that the recruitment industry has a bit of an image problem. 

There are some rogue recruiters out there, and they’re pulling everyone else down. You don’t need to look any closer than the front page of Google to see the effect this is having:

But why is this? Agency Central works with many, many recruitment agencies. We’re forever hearing tales of these firms doing a great job for client and candidate alike. So what gives?

Some of it is down to ugly myths about recruitment. But still, there are more than a few sharks out there in the ocean we call the recruitment industry. And those killer fish are giving the whole lot of us a bad name. 

But why? And what can we do about it?

First off, let’s take a look at the ways that poor candidate experience is killing recruitment. These aren’t things that anyone should have to put up with.

What are the worst things that rogue recruiters do to candidates?

A complete lack of feedback

Feedback is generally a good thing, unless you’re a sound engineer. But a huge complaint made by candidates is that they receive no feedback from recruiters. This seems to be especially the case when they’re unsuccessful in their application.

We get it; negative feedback is a difficult thing to give. But candidates spend time and effort applying for vacancies. We owe it to them as professionals to at least give them some guidance on how they’ve done. That goes the same if they aced the interview or if they completely bombed.

“Do what you can to build weaker candidates up, and you might find that they become much stronger down the line.”

Candidates come to recruiters because they’re looking for help with their career. Sometimes that involves us giving them a few tips. Like the ugly duckling, today’s bad candidate could be tomorrow’s superstar. There’s no point in leaving someone with a bad taste in their mouth for the sake of a few minutes’ discussion.


Recruitment is about sales. Top billers tend to have mastered the art of this. Vacancies get introduced to the right candidates, at the right time. The candidate gets excited, the client gets happy, and the recruiter gets paid. It’s a delicate, nuanced approach that can take years to master.

Then, you have the scattergun recruiter. This person relies on numbers to fill their vacancies, and cares about little else. They push the button, and they push it again. And again. 

It could be to fulfil poorly-designed KPIs. It could be born out of the false belief that it’s boring, so it must be hard work. The only thing it actually is, is spam.

Even a cursory search of the internet will show you the effect that this has on candidates. They get repulsed by it. It’s one of the biggest factors driving people away from our industry. 

Pushing candidates down a bad path

There’s a certain type of recruiter who cares about little more than getting bums on seats. If you’re qualified to do a job, then you’re good enough for them. They couldn’t care less about factors like cultural fit or commuting distance.

And of course, this recruiter is blind to every aspect of their occupation except the sales aspect. So they try to sell you the job. Who cares if you’re happy where you are? They can give you three reasons why you need to move, right now.

If they were selling widgets from a production line, there’d be no problem with this behaviour. But they’re not. Treating candidates like a faceless commodity is never going to go down well. 

Recruiters who accept that candidates are living, breathing individuals, will always win out. Most do this – it’s a people business after all – but there’s always a bad egg or two.

Putting candidates’ jobs in jeopardy

There’s an unwritten code in recruitment that you don’t let on to someone’s boss if they’re looking for a new job. But we’ve all heard stories where a candidate has received email, or even telephone calls at work. For some reason, this is even happening within the rec2rec industry. 

It stands to reason that if someone is looking for new employment, then they will want to keep that a secret at work. Even if they have an understanding boss, telling them that they’re leaving isn’t likely to be a good move. 

They’ll get taken off the best projects and left out of sensitive meetings. If they decide to stay, then wounds may be difficult to salve.

Good recruiters won’t let any of this happen. Discretion is a skill, and an important one if you want to make it to the top.

How can you improve the recruitment service you provide to candidates?

Walk in their shoes

In some ways, recruitment is like any other business. The easiest way to improve your customer experience, as always, is to put yourself in their shoes. Take a walk through the processes a candidate goes through when they sign up with you. Most of all, be honest about it.

It can be difficult to see the woods for the trees in these situations, but done right, it’s a worthwhile exercise. This is often called a customer walk-through.

You could conduct this process in secret – much like retail chains use mystery shoppers. 

“If people are happy to come into work in the morning, then things will go well”.

Before you begin a walk-through, it’s important that you discuss it with your staff. If they only find out about the exercise after the fact, they may feel that they are being spied on. This would have implications for employee morale.

Assure staff that the exercise will not become a stick to beat anyone with. Point out that the process will create benefits for everyone in the company.

For one, the exercise may flag problems with your service. Eliminating these problems is likely to increase your retention of candidates and clients. Following this, news of your high-quality service is likely to spread. This should then mean that new business comes your way without you having to look for it.

An alternative would be to take a less secretive approach. This might involve sitting down with staff and going through role play exercises. This technique is less likely to offend anyone, but can lose an edge when it comes to finding sticking points.

The problem with the role play approach is that it can be difficult to be honest with oneself in some cases. Can you really simulate what it’s like to be up against it on a busy Thursday afternoon, simply through role play? These are the types of situation where corners might get cut – and exactly the sort of thing you want to identify.

Gather feedback from candidates who’ve stopped using your service

This is a tricky one. Unhappy candidates aren’t likely to want to go through an exit interview. They may not even answer the phone to you.

But it’s not impossible to find out what they think. Actually there are a couple of methods available here.

The old-fashioned method is to make a customer comments form available. Make it clear that management will regard any such submissions as important. 

This process is far from ideal though. It relies on a candidate being in your physical location to make it work. This isn’t always the case when they decide to stop using your service. 

You could make the form available online, but this still has problems. How many disgruntled candidates do you think will ever visit your website again? The answer is: not many.

Social media

That’s why the best place to gather feedback in this way is on social media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. More generally, places like Google Reviews are also a great place to look.

This process will be a lot easier if you’re already quite strong on social media. If you’re not, then here are some great tips on how you can quickly build your social media presence.

Engaging with your candidates over social media will unlock more than one benefit. Not only will it allow you to see when customers are growing disgruntled – and often to fix these problems, too – it may even allow you to solve problems before they occur. 

By having your ear to the ground in this way, you can remain close to your candidates. This should give you a better handle on what it is that they want from you – allowing you to better serve them. Social media isn’t just for branding.

Gather feedback from candidates you’ve recently placed

An easier way to get feedback is from candidates who have used your service to find a job. These candidates are likely to be happy – which means they are likely to respond – but this is a double-edged sword.

The fact that they are happy with your service means that they are unlikely to flag many problems with it. Given that finding problems is the object of the exercise, this type of feedback is of limited use. 

But you shouldn’t discount this method entirely. Even if a candidate was successful, they could still have encountered frustrations along the way. 

It’s also worth being proactive in questioning such candidates. Rather than asking broad questions like ‘how was our service?’, it may be better to be specific. Direct questions will serve you better in this instance. Ask things like: like ‘how was our telephone response time?’, or ‘did you encounter any problems with our service?’. 

This will prompt the candidate to recount problems or minor niggles they may have encountered. This should be much more useful to you than a simple ‘everything was fine’ response.

Conclusion: putting it all together for a great candidate experience

Hopefully your recruitment agency shows very few signs of a poor candidate experience. This blog post isn’t intended to say that the ‘sky is falling’. Most recruitment agencies out there in the UK are doing a great job for their clients and candidates. While there are a few bad apples, they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the good.

But there is always room for improvement.

The best recruiters know that without happy, high quality candidates, their work will be impossible. Because of this, they will do anything they can to improve their candidate experience. It’s one way to ensure you’re in the top tier.

That’s why it’s important to keep looking for ways that you can make your candidates happier. In doing so though, it’s imperative that you don’t alienate your employees or coworkers. Attempts to analyse or change established procedure can begin to look like a witch hunt if they aren’t managed correctly. So you have to get everyone on-side.

How you do this will depend on your team and management style. But, as with any business, good morale is of the utmost importance. If people are happy to come into work in the morning, then things will go well. They will work hard. If they begin to loathe their jobs, then every day will be an uphill struggle. You will also begin to lose staff – probably to your competitors.

The improvement process should also be continuous. There’s little point in treating this as a one-off. But emphasising this aspect could help you to get staff thinking about it the right way. The process isn’t there to solve any one particular issue – instead it’s something that’s being brought in to ensure that you’re always the best.

And even when you’re outside of your improvement project, you should be listening to what your candidates tell you. Better still, ask questions. Put yourself in their shoes and try to figure out what would be important to you. 

Do what you can to build weaker candidates up, and you might find that they become much stronger down the line. They’ll probably remember you for it, too.

Like any industry, there are some shady characters in recruitment. They are giving us a bad reputation. And the best way to combat this is to do the opposite of what they do. Delight your clients and candidates, and let your service shine like a beacon. It’s the foundation of success.


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